The 2008 Houston Texans were ready to burst onto the scene in the NFL, except mother nature wasn't ready for the Texans just yet. After Hurricane Ike caused the Texans to leave their home city for a few weeks, the team took an abrupt bye in Week Two and didn't have a home game until Week Five.
As the Texans thought 2008 would be the season to turn their losing fortunes around, they may have done just that. After the 0-4 start, the Texans won eight of their final twelve games to finish at .500, tied with the '07 season for most wins in a season in franchise history.
The Texans will start the 2008 season with one of the top wide receivers in football in Andre Johnson. The 28-year-old wideout is coming off his best season as a professional, catching a franchise record 115 passes and added eight touchdowns.
It was obvious last season that when Johnson had big games, the Texans offense did as well. In five of the team's eight losses, Johnson had four or fewer catches. In the Texans' eight wins, Johnson averaged 9.25 catches a game. He also scored six of his eight touchdowns in games the Texans won.
It is evident for the '09 season that Johnson will need to have a big season for the Texans to be contenders. However, with a more balanced attack, the Texans offense is ready to explode.
Since Domanick Davis (now Dominick Williams) had back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2003 and 2004, the Texans were in the bottom half of the league in rushing every year. However, with a much improved offensive line, running back Steve Slaton produced the best rookie season in franchise history.
After his freshman year at West Virginia, Slaton was presumed to become a first-round pick. After his 1,700-plus-yard sophomore season, Slaton's injury-plagued junior season noticeably hurt his chances of being a first-round pick. In the 2008 draft, the Texans took Slaton in the third round, 89th overall.
However, maybe not being a top pick was for the best.
Slaton, now penciled in as the starter after his record-setting rookie season, is ready to become a top-tier running back. With his great speed and agility, Slaton is ready to put the Texans' running game on his back. Since being selected in the third round, Slaton has been playing with a chip on his shoulder.
With an elite wide receiver in Andre Johnson and a sensational second-year running back, the Texans offense will need steady play from quarterback Matt Schaub.
Schaub doesn't have to handle the bulk of the offense in Houston like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees need to do for their respective teams. However, if Schaub plays inconsistently and turns the ball over, the Texans could end up like the Minnesota Vikings, a team just a quarterback away from contending for the Super Bowl.
When healthy, Schaub is an above-average quarterback, as he proved last year, throwing for over 3,000 yards in just 11 games. The problem for Schaub is staying healthy.
The 6'5'' Virginia alum has missed 10 starts in his two years as the Texans' quarterback. If Schaub can stay healthy, he has the weapons to become a top-10 quarterback in the NFL.
The weapons Schaub has on offense don't stop with Johnson and Slaton, though.
Opposite of Johnson, Kevin Walter has become one of the better No. 2 wideouts in the league. Walter was tied with Johnson for the team lead in receiving touchdowns with eight and averaged 15.0 yards per reception, which was first on the team. The 28-year-old is coming off his best NFL season, and with Johnson garnering more double teams, his numbers could get even better in '09.
The final piece of the Texans offense is one of the best receiving tight ends in all of football.
Owen Daniels, 26, exploded onto the scene with 70 catches and over 850 yards receiving last year. The fifth-year tight end is the Texans' best weapon in the middle of the field and will help take off the double teams off Johnson.
Owens only caught two touchdown passes last season, both in a Week Eight games versus the Lions, but without a big red-zone back and Johnson earning many red-zone double teams, Daniels could find himself as the main target.
As stated above, the offensive line is much better than the past. The Texans were known for having a terrible offensive line and the troubles up front may have been the reason former first-round pick David Carr never panned out.
Up front, the Texans will start a promising young left tackle in Duane Brown. Along with Brown, Chester Pitts and Eric Winston have received some recognition as both players have become above-average starters.
They may not be household names, but this group led the way for the offense to pile up some monster numbers in 2008. The Texans ranked third in total offense (382.1 yards/game), fourth in passing offense (266.7 yards/game), and 13th in rushing offense (115.4 yards/game).
The Texans have one of the best defensive lines in the game, led by two former first round picks, Mario Williams and Amobi Okoye. Williams is coming off his first All-Pro season and he could make a run at Defensive Player of the Year. At just 22 years old, Okoye has become one of the best defensive tackles in football.
The second line of defense is led by former Defensive Rookie of the Year award winner DeMeco Ryans. The middle linebacker led the NFL in tackles partway through the season in '08 and finished with 112 tackles, which was good for 11th best in the AFC.
Xavier Adibi is one of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL. It looks like he is going to start on one side of Ryans. If he can become a sure tackler, he will have a good season as he can run almost any running back down.
First-round pick Brian Cushing could be an instant starter for the Texans' defense. The former Southern California Trojan has played in a prototypical NFL-style defense and is ready to start from day one. If Cushing is healthy, the Texans' front seven could be among the best in the league.
Dunta Robinson is the Texans' X-factor. Robinson, the sixth-year corner from South Carolina, has had contract issues that have kept him out of camp thus far. He received the team's franchise tag in February, but Robinson wants an extension before reporting to camp.
If Robinson returns to camp and plays to the best of his abilities, he could return to his 2004 form, when he won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. If not, the secondary will be the Achilles' heel of this team. Without much depth, the Texans need their shutdown corner not only at camp but happy, as well.
With the Texans having an explosive offense and a great front seven, look for them to be the talk to the AFC South in 2009.
The Colts have shown a little decline and are a major injury away from being a single digit winning team. The Jacksonville Jaguars have regressed within the past two years and need more help to become a legitimate contender. The Tennessee Titans lost their best defensive player and have questions all over the field, starting at wide receiver.
In 2009, not only will the Texans compete, but they will become contenders throughout the entire season.